All posts by Rand Simberg

The War Has Come To Us

This apparently hasn’t sunk in yet. A lot of your save-the-Earth-grandmothers-against-guns types can parade around public buildings all they want chanting and carrying poorly constructed anachronistic peace signs, but they happen to be at war while doing so.

Why, just the other day passengers on a United Airlines airplane took it upon themselves to keep a deranged passenger from trying to enter the cockpit. Hip, hip, hooray! That behavior is an act of civil defense in a time of war, is it not? It even requires that we shake the conventions of peacetime travel when we are expected to sit tranquilly in our seats and follow federal regulations.

And on that note, I point out that I was prescient, and reprint a little editorial I posted on s.s.p the day after the attack.

End of an Era

They blew their wad.

The grounding of the nation’s air fleet can be lifted–it’s safe to fly again.

Whoever committed this heinous crime yesterday did do the world at least one favor. In a single day, they ended the four-decade reign of fear over aircraft hijacking.

Forever.

This incident didn’t result from a breakdown of security–no one had weapons that the security system looks for. The reason, and the only reason, that the perpetrators succeeded in their diabolical plot was that they had the element of surprise.

Prior to September 11, 2001, aircraft hijacking was something to be prevented if possible, but if it wasn’t possible, the hijackers were people to be cooperated with until they could somehow be brought to justice, in order to save plane, crew and passengers.

This attitude allowed men armed, apparently, with only knives, to commandeer an aircraft in which they were massively outnumbered, by threatening or killing individual passengers and crew. To save those people, everyone went along, at least on three of the four planes.

Had those passengers been aware of the ultimate purpose of those hijackings, they would have failed–the hijackers would have been overcome and subdued, if not killed, by passengers and crew desperate to save themselves and their plane.

The paradigm has permanently shifted. From this day forward, passengers will now be aware that there are worse things than letting hostages die in an aircraft.

Whoever did this screwed it up for all future hijackers, regardless of their purpose. A similar scheme will not succeed today, or tomorrow, or any time that the flying public retain memories of what happened yesterday.

No need to change procedures–the potential victims themselves have changed, fundamentally, and will be victims no more.

Let the aircraft fly.

Helping Terrorists

Sounds to me like the “crack suicide squads” from the Judean Peoples’ Front. (More and more, the Ladenites seem like Monty Python gone bad).

It also reminds me of George Patton’s remark that you don’t win wars by dying for your country — you win wars by making some poor stupid bastard die for his.

Yes, indeed–I think that we have finally found a convergence of goals. They want to die–we want to accommodate them. It is a marriage made in Talibanic heaven.

Lunar Zion

Now, what to make of Dr. Bob Zubrin?

Not being a current Space News subscriber, I haven’t read the opinion piece that he wrote a few days ago, though I saw the following excerpt at Keith Cowing’s NASA Watch web site:

With the [Islamic] fundamentalist takeover, the most glorious civilization humanity had ever known was turned into a dung heap of misery, mental slavery, degradation and ignorance. A quarter of the world has turned into a graveyard of the mind, which for the past 700 years has not produced a single significant scientific advance.

If I am informed correctly, Bob proposes that we really spite and put it to those scientifically-ignorant medieval towel heads by colonizing Mars. Now is that in your face, or what?

What with calls for new gun control, increased wiretapping, airline and hospitality industry bailouts, more handouts for the national strategic peanut industry, etc., I probably would have been shocked if Bob hadn’t also figured out a way to hijack last month’s atrocities for his own narrow political agenda. But even for Bob (again, assuming that it’s true–I’d appreciate being emailed a copy of the editorial if anyone has it), [Update about noon PDT on Sunday, someone posted a URL on s.s.p. It can be found here], it’s almost breathtaking in its verve and audacity.

Unfortunately for Bob and humanity’s near-term future on subdividing the Red Planet, I suspect that the political establishment will find his call to arms less than compelling. Even if it were viewed as an effective tactic for ending terrorism (“Take that, Osama, you unscientific infidel”), the time frame involved in implementing his solution to terrorism would likely strain the patience of the American people, who, if we are to believe the polls, are willing to wait a few weeks or months to see some concrete action, but probably not decades.

Apparently the National Space Society and the Mars Society (at least the Canadian branch) have disavowed his comments, and made clear that he spoke for himself alone. But the little imbroglio did get me to thinking. Is there some way to hijack^H^H^H^H^H^H assist in the War on Terrorism (still need a better name) that can also advance the cause of space development? Doing well by doing good, so to speak?

A week or two ago, I started a thread on sci.space.policy entitled “Lunar Palestine.” The thread quickly drifted off to the topics of single-stage-to-orbit, and gun control, and what asses various members of the newsgroup are (no, I’m not going to name names) as threads on s.s.p are wont to do, and we never really resolved the issue of whether or not, assuming that we did make the Moon at least as habitable as, say, circa-1982 Beirut, the Palestinians could be persuaded to move there in their own homeland.

But thinking some more, I now have a better solution. In a discussion with Jim Bennett, it was pointed out that the Zionists (being socialists, and largely atheistic) were originally not even seeking to live in what is today Israel–they were looking at places like Madagascar and Siberia. The Holy Land only became the favored destination after they joined forces with the Orthodox Jews already living there (who were actually opposed to a Jewish state, but eventually went along, as long as it would be in ancient Judea, and be a real Jewish state). This marriage of convenience resulted in modern Israel, with all its quirks, contradictions, and violence.

Perhaps, with what’s been going on the past few years (you know, intifadas and stuff), the Zionists could be persuaded to say, “To hell with it!”, pull up stakes, and move to Luna. A space colony is actually pretty well suited to a kibbutz social model, and they could get back to their socialist roots. They’re already used to living places that are short of water–they’d figure out how to make do. That would be a form of socialism that I could probably get behind, because it might save us more money in reduced oil prices than it would cost, and it would push the development of the technology, making it affordable for us capitalists to do stuff in space as well.

Obviously, this idea is just in the formative stages, and it’s possible that there are some implications that haven’t yet occurred to me. But I’m sure that I’ll get abundant feedback on just how stupid an idea this is…

Slouching Toward Nanotech

OK, now that I’ve gotten that out of my system, I want to discuss more important matters that came up in the process of indulging in my primal tribal urges…

While I was watching college football (in particular the FL-Auburn game), I saw an advertisement.

It was an advertisement for a tool ( not surprising, considering the demographic–it was included amidst other ads about lawn fertilizer, razor blades, fermented malt beverages, hair regrowth tonics, etc.–you know the drill).

Now, I have observed, both from advertisements, and from actually shopping and purchasing from places like Home Depot, over the past few years, that tools for manly men (such as moi of course, and Tim the Toolman ), have both improved in quality and reduced in price, to the point of amazing. When I was a kid (more years ago than I like to think about, or even describe……..all right, it was in the late ’60s and early ’70s), tools were precious implements. They were things to request, generally in futility, from financially-strapped parents, for special occasions, such as birthdays or Christmas. And if such tools were Craftsman, with their lifetime warranty (we couldn’t aspire to such Olympian implements of the gods from Snap-on)…, well, that was more than a birthday–it was a premature visitation to Paradise, and one of which we were obviously and blatantly undeserving.

But enough of the trip down memory lane. The point is, that now I can in fact go down to Home Depot, and find on sale drop-forged tools of which, as a pimply youth, I could only have dreamed, for a price that is a minor blip on my already-overcharged credit cards.

All right, so they’re made in China. Isn’t globalization wonderful?

These tools are not just cheap^H^H^H^H^H affordable–they’re damned useful. They can do things that we could only fantasize about (assume we had a really rich and lustrous fantasy life). In fact, when we see Bob Villa shilling for them, admit it–we are all kicking ourselves wondering why we didn’t come up with this idea so that we too could get ripped off by some venture capitalist who would take our idea and run with it, using his money, and leaving us with an infinitesimal fraction of the company that would exploit it and make millions for someone with more money and smarts than us.

So, why am I boring y’all with this?

I saw an ad for a new kind of tool. A magical, transcendant tool–a tool that I could not have envisioned in my most drug-addled adolescent fantasies. It was a universal wrench, called the Gator Grip (most appropriate, considering I was watching it during the Florida (Gator)-Auburn game at the time). When I saw it, I thought immediately of Hans Morovec’s book, published much over a decade ago (depressing how long ago), called “Mind Children.”

In that book, he described fractal robots, creatures of human invention, into which we would download our minds/souls, and they would have a semi-infinite number of appendages, with which to explore the world around us, manipulate it, and (most importantly) interact with other fractal robots to induce in them pleasure, in a semi-infinite sort of fingular interaction (sorry, I’m not going to get more explicit–this is a family-oriented stream-of consciousness, or in my case, puddle of consciousness…). I.E., robot sex, except sex much better than we can even imagine, unless we subscribe to some of the really hot sites on the net.

Anyway, I digress again (sorry, college football and sex have that effect…).

My point is, that there are tools for gripping stuff (bolts, nuts, various terrorist appendages, if the damned FAA will allow you to carry them) that we couldn’t even conceive of, let alone purchase, when we were acne-challenged kids working on our cars. This particular tool, with which I am now enamored, has a lot of little pins, in circular pattern, on springs, that when pressed against some object, take its shape.

Now, you might say, “What’s the big deal?” And if you’ve never had to work on a mechanical system (car, furnace, pasta maker) for which you either lacked the proper bit, or the head had been stripped beyond recognition, you would be fully justified in such a question.

But if you’re a manly man, like me, who will spend several hours on repairing something that is worth a dollar ninety eight (when his time is worth several tens of dollars per hour on a good day, if doing something actually useful, and who can’t tolerate the thought of actually paying some drone who is obviously less talented than you at fixing stuff), you will immediately recognize the value of such a de-vice.

It is the universal wrench. It can grab anything–broken wingnuts, stripped screws, stripped nuts, misshapen bolts. How could any man worthy of the name not be willing to take out a fourth mortgage on his house for such a mystical de-vice?

Now, to get to the real point of this demented rant, this tool is really a first step. While it is not a nano de-vice in scale, it most certainly is in concept.

Think about it.

Many conceptualizations of nanorobots imagine them fitting themselves to proteins, folded in a unique protein-like manner, and accommodating themselves to the folds.

Here we have a macro-tool that operates on exactly the same principle. No matter how complex or (OK, let’s be honest, we munge them) …, ummmm…compromised (yeah, that’s the word!) fastener interface that it encounters, it contorts itself to grip.

When I saw this, I had two immediate thoughts.


  1. I had to have one of these, for that wood screw I stripped with that screwdriver that I was too cheap to replace, and
  2. This was a significant step toward de-vices that would indeed work on a micrometer or nanometer level, and that in fact we were close to immortality and eternal happiness. And of course, the singularity, in which we would all become (if we are to believe Bill Joy) slaves to the machine overlords, and toil endlessly in their underground sugar caves.

Anyway, I want one…